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Chocolate – August 2002

Mmmm chocolate.......why do we sell chocolate at Piko?

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans that grow on the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao), which is a native to the lush jungles of Central and South America. Now cocoa trees are grown also in Africa, Malaysia and other hot, tropical countries. The word chocolate comes from xocoatl an Aztec word meaning "bitter drink". Cocoa trees are grown in plantations as well as in rainforests. The tree takes about 8 years to mature and is dependent for its pollination on tiny insects that live in the rotting jungle vegetation. The cocoa pod takes 6 months to ripen, and a single tree can produce 100-150 pods each containing 20-40 almond sized beans. The harvesting and breaking open of the pods are still done by hand, even though engineers have tried for decades to develop labour saving devices.
After the beans are removed from the pod the fresh wet beans and the sweetish white pulp are left to ferment. Fermentation is necessary to develop the strong chocolate flavour. Also during fermentation high levels of polyphenolics are created, which means superior health benefits. Polyphenolics are antioxidants and are important in helping to slow the ageing process and preventing cancer and disease.
Cheaper, mass-produced cocoa tends to be made from unfermented beans.
After fermentation the beans are sun dried and shipped to foreign chocolate factories where they are roasted and hulled. The bean flesh is ground to a paste called cocoa mass or chocolate liquor, which is quite bitter. The cocoa mass then goes though a press, which presses out the cocoa butter. What is left behind of the bean flesh is pulverised into a fine powder called cocoa powder! Melting cocoa butter and sugar together via a 'secret' process makes chocolate. Often milk solids and vanilla are added.
Unfortunately chocolate is only rarely available in a wholefood form. It is usually found in sweets and snacks mixed with refined sugar, hydrogenated fats and other denatured food.
Good quality dark chocolate should consist of about 70% cocoa liquor (of which 30% is cocoa mass), 30% raw sugar, a small amount of lecithin (an emulsifier derived from soybeans) and pure vanilla extract.
Milk chocolate contains 40% sugar, 23% cocoa butter, 10% cocoa mass, 26% milk solids as well as the lecithin and vanilla.
White chocolate has no cocoa solids and is made instead from the cocoa butter by itself with added sugar and milk solids.
Cheaper chocolate has often had the expensive cocoa liquor replaced by sugar and the cocoa butter by hardened vegetable fats; this chocolate has no health benefits at all!

So what's good (and not so good) about chocolate?
Chocolate contains a phytochemical called phenyl ethylamine or PEA, which is an endorphin; this has a stimulating effect on the brain by creating a positive energy and lifting the mood and increasing our energy and mental alertness - a helpful chemical (in the short term!) for the depressed and P.M.Tsuffering brain!
Chocolate also contains theobromine, a caffeine-like substance, which is a mild heart stimulant, but it also has the property of being a smooth muscle relaxant and a vasodilator so it can help lower blood pressure.
Chocolate also contains caffeine although the level is relatively low in comparison to tea and coffee. These substances can be helpful in small quantities but when caffeine and similar compounds are taken in excess any of several symptoms usually result; including anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, digestive maladies and moodiness.
Chocolate has the highest magnesium levels of any food besides seaweed, and more iron than spinach (14mg iron per100g, which researchers have found to be 93% usable)
It seems that most chocaholics have a magnesium-poor diet and crave chocolate to improve the calcium status of their nerves and bones - magnesium is necessary for calcification - not to mention the addictive nature of the caffeine, theobromine and PEA.
Chocolate is also an excellent source of potassium and phosphorus, as well as a good source of zinc, copper, chromium and manganese and contains more calcium than milk.
Nonetheless, chocolate is extremely rich in oxalic acid (which can inhibit calcium absorption) and if eaten habitually it inhibits healthy overall mineralisation of the body.
The antioxidants chocolate contains (PEAs) protect the cocoa butter during storage so no preservatives are needed.

The Fair Trade Issue
One other serious consideration when buying chocolate is the effects of international price policies in the trade of goods from developing countries, which are often devastating to both the natural environment and the living
conditions of farmers and workers.
The Rapunzel chocolate we sell at Piko, has been grown by farmers through the 'Hand in Hand Fund'. This is a fair trade project that pays the farmers higher prices independent of the fluctuations of the world market, thus
enabling them to cover the costs of a sustainable organic agriculture and earn their living. It also guarantees the welfare rights of the workers and inspects the organic farming methods used.

So how much chocolate should we eat?
Well as with most good things - moderation is the key; one source says that a 50g bar of good quality chocalate is the maximum you should have per day (Ashton & Ashton, 2001). However, we would say even this amount has the potential to cause problems with mineral uptake, support an addiction and have adverse effects on blood sugar balance (a 50g bar would contain approx. 1 tablespoon of sugar). So use your integrity, but be comforted to know that
chocolate itself isn't the big baddie we've all been led to believe and that we can all enjoy it guilt-free from time to time!

This newsletter was compiled by Tineke.
References:
A Chocolate a Day keeps the doctor away by John Ashton &Suzy Ashton 2001. (Very good read)
Rapunzel Hand in Hand Organic and Fair Trade magazine. (Available FOC at Piko)
Healing With Wholefoods – Paul Pitchford 1993.

A RENEWED PLEA ABOUT SHOPPING BAGS!!
We would like to encourage our customers to bring your own bag (preferably jute or another renewable material) when you shop – at Piko and at the supermarket (they may look at you a little strangely to begin with, but will soon get used to the idea!). It is a simple and easy way to make a huge difference in reducing waste and pollution, and to save us from drowning in a toxic sea of plastic supermarket bags ....aaargh!!

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